Mnozil Brass: Merry musical mirth

Mnozil Brass
We Are Green Bay

Usually, the guys in the back of the class who dream up distracting mischief grow up and move on. Some get lucky. The seven guys in Mnozil Brass make a living at mirth with music and comedy as they entertain paying crowds in really nice halls in many cities around the globe.
Tuesday night, Mnozil Brass played Cofrin Family Hall at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. The act was perfect for the place.
1.      No amplification. The hall’s acoustics is alive. The sound of brass instruments carries. Played cleanly and deftly as with Mnozil Brass, the effect is like being inside the best-made sound system. And everything is LIVE.
2.      The place was built for the best to be comfortable performing at their best. Add a healthy, responsive audience, and everything works.
The Mnozil Brass players have just enough serious bones in their body to display some fine points of performing classical music. Mostly, though, they deal with popular music, with “popular” a wide-swath definition. For instance, Richard Wagner’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra” is the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” version, complete with the musicians portraying primates who adore a black musical instrument case as the monolith.
The Mnozil Brass musicians played for a couple of hours without one piece of sheet music around. It was all from the head – intricate, seven-part music demanding timing and interplay.
Such playing makes for nice CDs. HOWEVER, Mnozil Brass is a visual act. And some of the visuals are extremely refined. This routine from one of Tuesday’s encores is Mnozil Brass at its pinnacle:
Leonhard Paul, a tall fellow who plays something akin to a flugelhorn, stands alone on stage. He’s the last guy taking a bow from the previous encore. He looks to a wing of the stage. Paul behaves like he is receiving wordless instructions. What unfolds, at length, is a visual humor routine played out by Paul’s expression and body English and manner. It’s like watching a silent movie routine or a vaudeville routine by one of the greats, like Stan Laurel. Paul kind of bungles his way into the point of the routine. He sits in a solitary chair toward the front center of the stage. He removes one shoe, then the other. He elaborately rolls a sock off one foot. He wipes a forefinger between a big toe and next toe on one foot, then sniffs. He wipes the sock between the toes. And sniffs. On to the other foot – unrolling the sock and wiping it between toes. No sniff this time. So there he is in a chair, barefoot. He has pulled the end of his necktie down between his legs in an attempt at decorum. Out comes a player with a trombone. Paul places the slide part between toes on his left foot. The player blows, and Paul moves the slide as the two create a tune. Out comes another player with another trombone. Same thing. Now there are two trombones and three guys playing one tune. Out comes another player with a trumpet. The player blows, and Paul fingers the valves with his right hand. Now there are two trombones and one trumpet and four guys playing one tune. Out comes another player with another trumpet. The player blows, and Paul fingers the valves with his left hand. Now there are two trombones and two trumpets and five guys playing one tune. Out comes another figure. Taking his time – everything takes time in this routine – he removes the chair from beneath Paul. Two trombones, two trumpets and one guy suspended by the other musicians… playing one tune. Mnozil Brass is world famous. That’s one reason.
The group dances. Its concept of performance is that of music and space and movement. The movement may be a weaving of the players in graceful action or it may be straight-on dance. There’s a bit with one of the players with castanets and flamenco, for instance.
The group sings. One song is in German, and it is sweetly melancholic – though, of course, with comedic touches.
The ring leader Tuesday was Thomas Gansch, who plays trumpets, including one that looks like it came out of his grandma’s attic. Gansch occasionally narrated. He spoke in Spanish, so not many people understood him. But from his inflection and demeanor it could be gathered that much of what he was saying was a send-up, a tease, a leg pull – the kid in the back of the class stuff. (I sat in the back of the class in speech and saw my seat partner’s mouthed-word mocks of what the teacher was saying and heard his whispered commentary on what at least I was learning. One day told me what he did the night before with the karate lessons he was taking: In horseplay, he broke his father’s knee. Didn’t mean it, but…) Read the rest of the review here